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Mar 20, 2017

Pattern emerges as red-light fly-bys continue

Drivers coming toward the bus don’t seem to know they need to stop

Despite heavy enforcement and the risk of sizeable fines, it appears some motorists may be unaware of the rules of the road when they come toward a stopped school bus with its red lights flashing.

That’s one of the observations Palliser Regional Schools Transportation Services Supervisor David Shaw takes away from the 45 “red light fly-bys” his bus drivers have reported so far this school year to the end of February. A fly-by occurs when motorists fail to stop for a school bus stopped with its red lights flashing and stop arm extended.

A few of the infractions are perpetrated by motorists approaching the bus from the rear. Most, however, come at the hands of drivers coming toward the school bus on a two-way road.

“They don’t seem to realize they have to stop in both directions when that stop arm is out and the lights are flashing,” Shaw says.

Only on a divided highway does oncoming traffic not have to stop for a bus with its lights flashing.

While drivers coming toward the bus may think they aren’t putting anyone at risk by their actions, Shaw says the many video recordings captured by the on-bus camera systems tell a different story. After the vehicle speeds by, you’ll often see a student crossing the road to get on board.

Palliser released a video showing showing a fly-by in real time. A student is waiting inside the bus to leave when the bus driver hits the horn as an approaching minivan passes at high speed. The video shows how quickly the situation could have gone wrong had the student already left the bus and started crossing the road.

Shaw says it’s fortunate that bus drivers have students trained to watch them for the signal that it’s safe to cross.

He says it’s incredible to watch the footage of recent fly-bys, particularly in light of the poor winter driving conditions.

“You’d think motorists would already be slowing down and approaching with caution,” he says. “You would think so, but if you see some of the tapes, it’s full speed ahead. They’re not even slowing down.”

The 45 fly-bys reported to date are an increase from 38 in the same period a year ago. There were 62 reports last year.

In 2012-2013, the first year Palliser launched its Think of Us on the Bus safety campaign, bus drivers reported 77 incidents. That equates to about one report every two school days.

The campaign aims to increase public awareness, educate drivers and students on safety practices, and build partnership with law enforcement. Many times, Commercial Vehicle Enforcement or other enforcement partners have responded to spikes in fly-by reports by increasing visibility on high traffic routes. The support from enforcement has been incredible and greatly appreciated, Shaw says.

Shaw was recently contacted by a counterpart at a school jurisdiction in Manitoba interested in Palliser’s Think of Us on the Bus campaign to address hundreds of fly-bys there.

“I gave him our website and told him to use whatever he could if he thought it would help,” Shaw says.

In recent years, Palliser added camera units to its buses in high traffic areas. On any given day, all 13 routes serving Coaldale schools are operating with on-board cameras, simplifying the reporting process when an incident occurs. Of the seven incidents in February, five were recorded and shared with enforcement agencies so $544 tickets could be issued. Had the incidents been spotted by enforcement in person, not just on camera, the ticket could also carry six demerit points.

Red flashing lights are used on buses in rural areas and in municipalities which allow them. If approaching a bus that’s stopped for students to load or unload without flashing lights, motorists should proceed with caution and can pass if it’s safe to do so.

If you’d like to test your knowledge of school bus rules, please try our 10-question quiz for motorists.

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